“You are actually, absolutely the best,” Lianne La Havas said in a lovely British accent to the sold out New York crowd on the evening of September 6. This would be just one of many compliments she would shower her adoring fans with throughout the night, as admiration radiated from both the stage and the floor of Webster Hall.
Though the London based singer-songwriter isn’t quite a household name yet, her career has been on a soaring trajectory since her first EP, “Lost & Found,” was released in 2011. In addition to releasing two critically acclaimed full-length albums, she’s collaborated with the likes of Willy Mason and Prince, and built up a significant following. Wednesday’s show marked the third time she’s played NYC since I moved back last May, but the first time I was finally able to get tickets before they quickly sold out. And though I’ve been to sold out shows at Webster Hall before, this was likely the most packed I have ever seen the venue’s main room.
La Havas caught my ear two years ago, when a friend recommended her single “Forget,” a quintessential track for anyone in seek of post heartbreak catharsis. The track’s acerbically relatable lyrics, and danceable backbone hooked me instantly, and her first full length “Is Your Love Big Enough?” has been in heavy rotation on my personal playlist since.
The show was opened by Jesse Boykins III, a dynamic R&B singer, songwriter and producer, whose smooth vocals flowed beautifully over a deluge of high-energy grooves and soulful ballads. Boykins greeted the crowd with the reassurance that it was “okay to move,” before instructing everyone to sway, “Left, Right”- just like the title of his opening track. Throughout his performance, Boykins remained dedicated to maintaining high audience participation, and the crowd happily obliged, clapping and singing along to standouts like “Earth Girls” from his latest release “Bartholomew.”
The star of the night graced the stage near 9:30 PM in a multi-color striped dress, and opened with the breezy “Au Cinema.” At the song’s conclusion, La Havas welcomed the crowd with an exuberant shout, “NEEEW YORK!”
Her love for the city to which she was playing was obvious. She proudly shared when she was about to play a track that was written here, like “Is Your Love Big Enough?” and “No Room for Doubt,” a song she briefly paused to praise the audience, “You have the most amazing singing voices!”
Though La Havas’ records leave no question to the level of her musical prowess, her talent was truly confirmed on the stage of Webster Hall, as her vocals ranged from angelically soft to roaring belts, and she seamlessly blended folk, soul, and good old fashioned rock’n’roll on her guitar. Her band briefly exited mid-set, and she delivered a few powerfully stripped down solo compositions, including a cover of “Say A Little Prayer.”
But the bonus experience of La Havas’ extremely charming personality is what makes her live show so exceptional. Her gracious rapport with the audience, whom she often referred to as friends, made her already relatable songs feel even more like a good chat with a close confidant. We grieved with her on songs like “Gone.” (Love is not blind, it’s just deaf and it is dumb/So how could I fool myself thinking you were the one.) But we also laughed with her during “Age,” as she added tongue-in-cheek commentary to own lyrics, “As long as he does whatever he’s told-Exactly!”
La Havas closed her set with “Forget,” but made sure to leave with something to remember the night by, as she requested a photograph with the audience, further shattering the barrier between performer and fans. As the elated crowd poured out onto 11th Street, I was pretty sure many were thinking the same thing I was. Lianne is actually, absolutely best.